For a self-described “minor celebrity,” humorist John Hodgman has become a considerable presence in pop culture. In recent years, his profile has perhaps been highest as Resident Expert on “The Daily Show,” a position to which he has brought a blisteringly hilarious pomposity.
But most people first became acquainted with Hodgman, who has appeared in a number of movies and television series, through one of the great ad campaigns: Apple’s “Get a Mac,” in which he was the buttoned-down, hopelessly square PC who always came up short in comparison to the laid-back, ultrahip Mac, played by Justin Long.
Those of a literary bent may also be familiar with Hodgman’s career as an author whose books include “The Areas of My Expertise” (an almanac-style collection of, in his words, “amazing fake facts and invented trivia”), “More Information Than You Require” (its sequel) and “That Is All” (the sequel to the sequel, including tips for dealing with the end of the world).
On Friday, fans will get the chance to hear Hodgman in person when he performs his “one-human” show, “Vacationland,” at the Englert Theatre, Iowa City.
Hodgman, 44, says the show draws on his experiences “growing up in New England as an only child — which is to say, as a very good kid who wanted to know what the rules were, and follow them really well so that I would be loved and approved of by every human on Earth.”
But childhood expectations, he says, have proven to be wildly out of sync with adult realities.
“A lot of my adult life has been spent in the countryside of rural western Massachusetts, and now up in Maine,” Hodgman says. “Once you get out of the city and there’s one sheriff per county, there really aren’t a lot of rules. There’s a lot more ambiguity about how life is lived that makes me very anxious.”
For example: “Confronting the terrible ambiguities of when it is legal to bring your garbage to the dump, and whether the guys at the dump are going to yell at you.”
Maine is a getaway for Hodgman, who lives in Brooklyn. But the New England state provides the comic fodder for “Vacationland.” The show takes its title from a nickname for Maine that Hodgman finds ironic.
“The ground itself is painful,” he says. “The beaches just want to cut your body up, and the water just wants to drag you down into the cold. And yet humans still go there, including me — I guess because it’s the kind of place you want to go to on vacation if, deep in your heart, you believe you don’t deserve happiness.”
Hodgman — who has contributed to “This American Life” and whose work has been published in the esteemed literary magazine “The Paris Review” — successfully straddles “high” and “low” culture. He also hosts ”Judge John Hodgman,” a weekly podcast that helps listeners solve real-life disputes (Is chili a soup or a stew? Is a machine gun a robot?).
Getting chosen to appear in the “Get a Mac” campaign, which ran from 2006 to 2009, was a lucky break, he says.
“I thought, ‘Well, I might as well experience what it’s like to audition for something like this, and see what happens, but I won’t get the job,’” Hodgman says. “And then I’ll have a story to tell about how I wasn’t that guy.
“But then, much to my surprise, I got the job — and it ruins the story.”
For him, making the ads involved “a huge, terrifying learning curve” — but ultimately, working with Long, director Phil Morrison (“Junebug”) and the rest of the crew was a wonderful experience.
“Every now and then, I would get together in a giant white room with my friends, and have fun,” he says. “And I miss it very much.”
Hodgman also credits “The Daily Show” for its role in putting him in the spotlight.
“I had written my first book, ‘The Areas of My Expertise,’ and went on the show as a guest,” he says. “Jon Stewart and I had a great time, and then they invited me back to be this ridiculous authority called the Resident Expert. And that morphed into the ‘deranged millionaire’ character.”
Hodgman’s fans will be glad to know that he expects to continue on “The Daily Show” when Trevor Noah takes the helm on Sept. 28.
“He’s really great and will bring a really interesting take to the show,” Hodgman says. “I’m very excited.”